By Dennis Glade
Washington Times Herald
There are few teams as hot as the Barr-Reeve baseball team in Southwestern Indiana, but Viking coach Nathan Lester cautions there is plenty of baseball to be played.
The Vikings (10-2) have won eight straight games, and seem to be hitting on all cylinders as they prepare for a matchup against arch rival Loogootee Tuesday at Barr-Reeve.
Coming off a 17-12 season in 2012 and a loss to Loogootee in the sectional championship, the Vikings had the same goal they have every year - win the Class A Sectional 63 championship. Loogootee has won the sectional the last two seasons.
“I thought we were capable of starting off pretty well,” Lester said. “I think we¹ve exceeded our expectations, but I also know that we¹ve had some breaks. We¹ve had some breaks go our way in these games, that¹s just baseball.” Barr-Reeve won its first two games of the season in a double header against Clay City and Crothersville by outscoring the two teams 20-1, but lost the next two in one-run decisions to Forest Park and Washington.
“Playing Forest Park and going nine innings, it looked as if we had the game sewn up,” Lester said. “We ended up going two extra innings and it was deflating when we came out to play Washington. Since the Washington game, I think our enthusiasm has picked up. I think we¹re fresh and when we step out there we¹re ready to play. I think Washington caught us at a time when we were down.” What followed was a string of victories, which includes three one-run wins.
Lester said the Vikings recent success has been a product of strong hitting, pitching and defense. The team ERA is 2.25.
Despite having a 3-2 record in one-run games this season, Lester said the Vikings haven’t hit as well with runners in scoring position as they could have, which has led to a lot of close games.
“We could have easily broke some of those games open and we haven’t, Lester said. “That’s really why those games are one-run, because we’re leaving guys at second and third with less than two outs. We’re just not getting the job done.” The Viking offense, which has scored nearly seven runs per game has been led by senior Brandon Wagler. Wagler leads the team in hits (20), runs (15), RBI
(15) and doubles (8). Wagler has a .444 overall batting average with a 1.216 OPS and a team-leading .444 average with runners in scoring position.
“He’s a senior,” Lester said. “He’s seen a lot of pitching in his day, and there’s a difference between being a junior and a senior and it might not be visible until that kid is a senior. He had a great year offensively last year, but this year he has been on fire. A lot of it is he is comfortable at the plate, and he doesn’t feel anyone can overpower him.” Tuesday’s game at home against Loogootee is important, because of the rivalry in all sports between the two schools. Lester, however, doesn’t want his team to put too much emphasis on the importance of the game one game.
“Baseball is so funny, what it boils down to is how well you will be playing at the end of May and the beginning of June,” Lester said. “Baseball you are so up and down, you play and then you get rained out. Then you play four days in a row - you’re on the road, you’re at home. Sometimes you get to practice sometimes you don’t. You’re cramming a season of 28-30 games in two months. Sometimes you’re consistent, but most of the time you’re up or down.
On Tuesday we could come out and play well and that really doesn’t mean much for the rest of the season.” With an entire month left before the postseason, Lester knows the success of his team will depend on Barr-Reeve’s ability to perfect the fundamentals.
“I told them at the beginning of the year, pitching and defense - that wins you more games than anything,” Lester said. “The team that catches and throws it the best usually wins the games.”